In concert with the “Tennessee Pledge” announced last week by Gov. Bill Lee, the City of Johnson City modified its Safer at Home Order to allow restaurants and retail outlets to begin operating at 50 percent capacity. Washington County took the same step, which allowed restaurants to open on Monday and retail businesses to open on Wednesday.
“We recognize the importance of getting our economy moving again and the most important thing is to do so safely,” said City Manager Pete Peterson. “We will be taking the ‘dimmer switch’ approach, as the state describes it – easing back in with strict guidelines in place. There is no such thing as business as usual. Our new normal is going to look different, with safety precautions in place for the foreseeable future.”
Phase two of the openings, which will include hospitals, dental offices, gyms and churches, will hinge on how well Tennesseans do in Phase one.
“We are lucky in this area that we do not have the clusters of cases like middle and west Tennessee, but we need to stay vigilant,” Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said.
Currently, gatherings of more than 10 people remain prohibited. Without knowing when large group activities will be permissible and safe, Johnson City and Pepsi Bottling Co. have decided to cancel this year’s Independence Day Fireworks Celebration at Freedom Hall Civic Center.
“Planning for an event of that magnitude takes months and unfortunately there are too many unknowns to do so right now,” Peterson said. “Likewise, we are making some tough decisions regarding Parks and Recreation programming as well.”
Summer camps, events, and sports programs have been canceled and pavilion rentals are suspended until further notice. Additionally, the Legion Street Pool will not open this summer.
The city will follow guidance from the state as reopening continues.
Meanwhile, Grandy formed a task force of local leaders to look at how to open up businesses while attempting to keep COVID-19 numbers in check. The task force plans to launch a web page that lists restaurants and businesses that are open and compliant with the Tennessee Pledge.
While Governor Lee did not put any additional enforcement measures in place, there are pre-established monitoring processes.
“Our local health inspectors will provide guidance and oversight to local restaurants during the next couple of months before resuming an inspection schedule,” explained Christen Minnick, Director of the Washington County Health Department. “Proper handwashing is key for employees as is checking to make sure no one has a temperature 99.9 degrees or greater.”
Businesses are to follow the same basic guidelines set forth for restaurants, with the addition of one-way aisles and traffic patterns that encourage social distancing.
“The Governor is encouraging the use of cloth masks when in public, along with using curbside, pickup and delivery service options when possible,” Grandy said.
Lee’s administration assembled the Tennessee Economic Recovery Group, pulling together the state’s departments of tourism, economic development, and revenue, members of the Tennessee General Assembly, and business leaders to safely reboot Tennessee’s economy. The group is chaired by Tennessee Department of Tourist Development Commissioner Mark Ezell.
“Tennesseans pulled together to flatten the curve, and it is time for people to begin to get back to work and back to their businesses,” Lee said. “We are pursuing a careful, measured approach to reopening our economy that does not depend on heavy-handed mandates but instead provides practical tools for businesses of all sizes.”
Businesses are encouraged to visit www.RegionAhead.com for information. Johnson City has also established a Safer at Home “hotline” email for questions: SaferAtHome@johnsoncitytn.org.
For more information on Gov. Lee’s Tennessee Pledge, please visit tn.gov/governor/covid-19/economic-recovery.